Australia Unlimited Summit, Docklands sheds, 8am

你好 and स्वागत to a hidden glimpse of Australia’s future.

Last week, I hauled myself out of bed with un-characteristic enthusiasm and headed off to the Docklands for the Australia Unlimited 2010 Summit.

The summit is held biannually and gathers business and political glitterati from Australia and interested nations in talks about Australia’s most pressing issues. High on the agenda was putting a price on carbon, food security, Australia’s international relationships, and citizen empowerment.

Among the many speakers were the Governor-General Quentin Bryce, leader of the opposition Hon Tony Abbott, and the Minister for Deregulation and Finance Hon Lindsay Tanner.

After nearly taking out former DFAT head Michael L’Estrange in a morning race to the coffee urn, I settled in to hear the inside word on Australia’s future direction.

Hon Tony Abbott PM, leader of the federal opposition Liberal party

Speaking on indigenous affairs

I’ve spent lots of time going to indigenous communities. My view is that we just have to get the kids to school, they just have to go.

No ifs, no buts, no, cultural excuses.  Similarly with the adults, there may not be a great job for them, but whatever it is, they just have to do it. Even if it’s picking up rubbish around the community, it just has to be done.

When we say something like, “get the cops into the community, get rid of the alcohol and get the kids to school”, there is this resistance because we believe we are imposing our standards on people without allowing their standards to flourish.

The last thing I would want to do as a modern, reasonably contemporary Australian is impose my standards on someone. But what if they’re not my standards, but they are universal standards? They are standards that every reasonable human being ought to aspire to, what if these are standards that are somehow imprinted on the soul of every person? These are just questions I’m asking.

The Hon Lindsay Tanner PM, Minister for Finance and Deregulation

Speaking on the threat of terrorism in Australia

We do not have the luxury to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. In terms of internal terrorism for example, the best way to protect ourselves against those threats is to ensure [migrants] feel a minimum level of alienation. We have a high responsibility to provide opportunities to help them integrate into Australian society. We shouldn’t say, “You should be grateful and good luck.” We need to actively seek to make people welcome.

Zhou Wenzhong, Former Chinese Ambassador to Australia

Speaking on China’s social and economic development

China has achieved great success in terms of economic and social development and is playing an increasingly important role in international affairs. Yet the road to development remains long, China is still the biggest developing country in the world.

China faces many problems in its economic and social development, such as uneven industrial structural development and income distribution. A large population, with a weak foundation, limited arable land and low productivity are our basic realities. China has 1.3 billion people but our per capita GDP trails behind more than 100 countries. China has the second largest population living below $1 a day in the world.

China pursues equal development. This is the logical choice of the Chinese people. In our external relations, we have always believed that the strong should not oppress the weak and the rich should not bully the poor. People everywhere in China as well as in Australia aspire to an open, inclusive and harmonious world, which includes lasting peace, democracy and mutual benefit.

Mr John McCarthy AO, former Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam

Speaking on Australia’s reputation

Reputation matters. Our reputation in Asia impacts directly on our interests. In Asia, Australians are perceived positively in terms of our resources and agriculture. We are admired for our energy and get up and go. Until recently, we were also admired for our education system.

On the negative side, Australians are seen as condescending and boastful. There are racial overtones that go back to White Australia and our treatment of aborigines. The incidents against Indian students had a huge impact in South Asia.

Mr Siddharth Varadarajan, Strategic Affairs Editor, the Hindu

Speaking on India and Australia relations

There are fundamental synergies between Australian and India, which I think makes it one of the most important relationships in the Asia-Pacific. Firstly, we are both culturally open societies. Secondly, we are both Asian powers. Despite Australia’s historical reluctance to look at itself as Asian now is the time to embrace new relationships.

Thirdly, we are both Indian Ocean powers, so the promise for cooperationand collective action needs to be explored in this relationship. Finally, Australia has resources and India has labour power, so we need to match these needs well, with the hope of course we can eventually access Australian uranium.

Mr Michael Luscombe, CEO and Group Managing Director, Woolworths Ltd

Speaking on the future of Australia’s food security

In recent times, we’ve seen mass migration of people looking for food security. I’ve seen lots of predictions about the availability of food, but its somewhere between 40 to 70 per cent more food than we currently produce as a globe and that’s based on the growing population and aspirations of developing nations.

The big issue is that we don’t turn the conversations we have here, in boardrooms and in cabinet rooms into actions.

There are four things we need to do:

1) Increase the productivity and yield of our land and our seas without further degrading the environment

2) Create new commercial opportunities for food producers, particularly value-add opportunities

3) Increase the knowledge and skills in food production to lead the world in best practice and safe food production. We need to ensure that our industry is attractive as a career for the most brilliant of minds.

4) Establish ‘grown in Australia’ as a global brand for clean, safe and available food.

Food was once critical to life, but now life is really starting to outstrip food. Everyone has a role to play to take a long-term view.

Lt General John Sanderson AC, Chairman of the Advisory Council, the Global Foundation and former Chief of the Australian Army

Speaking on Australia’s strategic future

We are in a position to form a bridge between the North-Atlantic culture and the emerging Asia-Pacific cultures and economies. The nature of that bridge will be necessarily determined by the needs of the region in which we live, rather than the needs of the 19th and 20th century power construct we have been a part of since European settlement on the continent.

To build this bridge we would have to reverse many of the trends that have emerged in the last two decades. The falling away from Asian languages and cultural studies in our education systems and the perceived fear of engagement with things Asian induced by terrorism in various parts of the world.

The object of such a change in our continent would have to be to increase the diversity of our economic cape, to build a more resilient economy than that allowed by the emerging monoculture of digging holes in the ground and selling real estate and equity to foreigners.

We do have a moment of opportunity, with 22 million Australians who share a large landmass and a resource rich continent, to feed a large part of the global population, while at the same time setting an example of sustainable environmental management. We should move to playing a

dominant role in being part of the solution, not part of the problem.

I have included the full copy of the speech made by the Hon Governor-General Quentin Bryce here.

This post includes photographs by Richard Jupe.